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Houston City Council Moves to Abolish Women’s Advocate Office (1977)


Sound | 1977

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  •  Houston Fire Department 
  •  Officer Susan Loucks with the Houston Police Department 
  •  Reporter Nancy Holland briefly worked at KPRC-TV, Houston’s NBC affiliate, before moving to its CBS affiliate, KHOU-TV 
  •  The Houston City Council held weekly “pop-off” sessions, during which members of the public could voice their opinions on any subject. These meetings were held Wednesday mornings from 10 am to 2 pm. 
  •  One critic reminds the City Council that "church, apple pie, morals, and motherhood made this country" 
  •  Councilman Larry McKaskle served on the Houston City Council from 1971 to 1991. He voted to abolish the position of Women’s Advocate.  
  •  Councilman Judson Robinson, Jr., was the first African American elected to the Houston City Council, serving from 1971 to his death in 1990. His son, Judson Robinson III, likewise served as a councilman from 1992 to 1997.  
  •  Fred Hofheinz served as mayor of Houston from 1974 to 1978. His father, Roy, was a former mayor of Houston, Harris County judge, and Texas state representative. He was also also part of the group that created the Houston Astros franchise and built the Astrodome.  
  •  Dr. Nikki Van Hightower 
  •  Reports on  women's outreach programs at the Small Business Administration and the newly established Houston Area Women's Center 
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  • About the video
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In 1976, Mayor of Houston Fred Hofheinz appointed Dr. Nikki Van Hightower to the position of Women’s Advocate, one of the first such city offices in the country. Hightower’s outspoken criticism of gender discrimination and prominent support of the women’s movement, however, made her unpopular with the all-male Houston City Council. The tension came to a head in March 1977, after Hightower spoke in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment at an International Women’s Day rally. When local citizens’ groups addressed the City Council in protest, its members voted to reduce her annual salary to $1, hoping to force her resignation. Once the salary vote was ruled illegal, the City Council voted to abolish the position of Women’s Advocate altogether. Minutes after the ordinance passed, Hofheinz announced that he had hired Hightower as the Affirmative Action Specialist on his staff, allowing her to perform essentially the same job under a different title. Hightower held the position until 1978, when Hofheinz’s successor, Jim McConn, fired her upon taking office. This unedited news footage from KPRC-TV captures the controversy surrounding Hightower leading up to the abolishment ordinance, with both detractors and supporters shown speaking before the City Council. Reporter Nancy Holland also interviews members of the public about their stance on the issue. The film also features silent footage from other news stories, including coverage of a local homicide as well as reports on the Houston Fire and Police Departments. Special thanks to Thoa Nguyen and Aden Wexberg for their help cataloging this film.
Nikki Van Hightower first became involved in the women’s movement in the early 1970s, when she was a student at the University of Houston. She continued her involvement after receiving her doctorate from New York University, moving back to Houston in 1974. Two years later, Mayor of Houston Fred Hofheinz appointed Hightower to the city office of Women’s Advocate. The move strongly influenced the decision to select Houston as the site of the National Women’s Conference in 1977. Hightower served as the city liaison for the event, notwithstanding the elimination of her office by the Houston City Council. 
In 1977, Hightower helped to establish the Houston Area Women’s Center, which provides crisis services for abused women. Hightower served as the organization’s executive director from 1979 to 1986, when she was elected Harris County treasurer. After losing the election for state treasurer in 1990, Hightower started teaching political science at Texas A&M University.